The story of Rockland’s notorious ‘underground’ celebrity
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
If you’re from Rockland and you’re not in the “know” you may be curious, who is Vinny Raffa? And why does he have a posse?
Vinny Raffa has break-danced with the Beastie Boys and brainstormed with De La Soul. Tony Hawk knows him, but won’t admit it.
But even if the name doesn’t sound familiar, his stickers probably are. You can find them plastered literally anywhere in the world, except perhaps the island nation of Papua New Guinea.
The story of Vinny Raffa is one of a born and bred Rocklander who has found his own variety of success and sense of social responsibility.
Raffa, is a benevolent king in the underground world of skateboarding, as well as an electrician and a member of Local 52, which does lighting for the film industry. Currently, he admits to being “Rockland’s brokest celebrity,” [sic] but it doesn’t seem to get him down. “Poor is the new rich,” says Raffa, never at a loss for a cliche to turn inside out.
At the height of his influence and in times the economy afforded people more spending money, Raffa, a 1982 Spring Valley High School graduate, was selling his own line of clothing and shoes called NSS as well as organizing major skateboard competitions around the world in places like London, Philadelphia and New York City.
“I’m worldwide famous,” Raffa says, sounding more like he’s giving a confession than boasting about his name recognition.
Raffa points out that skateboarding has gone from being a pastime for outcasts to a pastime for “cool kids,” it is not a field many people can make a living off of. “These days only a few make money on skateboarding,” Raffa says.
But it’s as popular as ever with the youth. “It’s every kid’s dream to have a skateboarding team,” claims Raffa, who says his most avid followers are pre-teens and teens who are just getting into skateboarding.
For all his success in the skating world, Raffa will probably go down in history for his prolific array of stickers. And if you have never noticed them, after reading this article, you will most likely notice. They went “viral” before the term viral was even in popular use.
Raffa explained, “I’ve been involved in skateboarding for 30 years. Skate, snow, you need stickers if you want to promote. My friend Newman said, ‘Vinny Raffa has a posse.’ It got out of control; posters, stickers started going everywhere.”
His notoriety grew further in the skate scene as he held events which attracted some of the top skaters in the world as well as celebrities like the Beasties Boys, De La Soul and many others. They would come to Raffa events on their downtime.
Raffa said before the Internet was around, he had to travel to California for trade shows to get his name out there and to organize events.
Skateboarding has the potential to make a positive impact in the lives of youths in Raffa’s opinion. “I want to do stuff. I want to keep kids away from [drugs]. I talk to kids often and they are on [drugs]. We need a youth culture where kids can make music, work on websites, their art, and where they can have a skatepark with a lounge,” Raffa said.
Raffa would like to see the local governments get involved in the lives of young people by making youth centers and skateparks that will actually be fun to hang out and skate at. He said in the past, skate parks have been made in a lame way. Raffa calls these kinds of false promises from localities “sugar-coating.”
“They build skateparks so kids can’t skate where they usually do. Orangetown is the worst ‘sugar-coater.’ They don’t want to build the ramps. I’ve been sugar-coated so many times I’m diabetic now,” Raffa said.
Of course, the towns have the fear of getting sued to oblivion if a skateboarder gets injured at one of their parks.
Raffa said the Internet and Facebook especially, has changed youth and American culture.
“I have 5,000 people on Facebook. Facebook is the new TV,” he said. And in the “new TV” everyone’s famous!
“The actor Billy Bob Thornton said recently that it used to be that people would come up to him and say how much they admire his work. Now they just come up and laugh at him,” Raffa said. “Because of facebook and the Internet everyone is a celebrity. Everyone is projecting images. Kids are more interested in creating their own stuff than buying albums.”
In addition to his skateboarding and his stickers, Raffa runs Raffa Electric by day, and does work on movie, TV and video sets for LOCAL 52. When he’s not working he can often be seen charming the local townies in the Village of Nyack.
Some film projects Raffa’s worked on include “The Soprano’s,” “Night and Day” (with Tom Cruise), “Avengers III,” “Run This Town” by Jay-Z and “Nick N’ Nora’s Permanent Playlist.”
Raffa’s affinity for hip-hop eventually led to him starting a popular radio program on Rockland World Radio called “Vinny Raffa has a Talk Show,” which featured local personalities, discussions on topics of the day and features on local artists, especially hip-hop artists.
Jermaine Paul, winner of this year’s The Voice, was a guest on Raffa’s show a few years back, before his big break. Paul is a local man, having lived in Nyack and Monroe. Raffa also brought actor Stephen Baldwin on his program for one of his more popular shows.
The man with the posse claims rap artist Eminem’s people once stole an idea for a sticker/stencil from him, and also says he’s the one who invented skateboarding shorts that go below the knees. The idea was to minimize scrapes to the knees.
In 1987 and 1988 Raffa sold “METS SUCKS” stickers outside Yankees games. He says he got thrown in a jail inside Yankee Stadium once and later found out Steinbrenner had a $5,000 bounty on him. Raffa said he used to make $500 a night selling those stickers.
Raffa has a ‘live in the moment’ philosophy toward life. “Every day’s a different day. Today I’m here at the Rockland County Times, spilling my beans.”
Appendix- Where’d the Posse concept come from?
Mark Waters of Skatepunk LLC accurately pointed out on a Rockland County Times message board that Raffa and friends “benevolently” lifted the posse concept from famed street artist Shepard Fairey.
While attending Rhode Island School of Design Fairey devised a post-Warholian art experiment based around images of Andre the Giant. Some of the popular work from this experiment were stickers that said “Andre the Giant has a Posse,” listing his height and weight, as well as a tag that said “Obey Giant.”
The images caused a sensation and Raffa was one who took notice.
Incidentally, Fairey would later go on to design Barack Obama’s HOPE portrait in 2008. As would happen to any skate scenester gone mainstream, Fairey has taken a lot of heat from the street for entering the two-party political arena with his art.